Sami Makarem Cultural Center


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entrance to sami makarem cultural center aytat

Cultural Connection

This historic and now magnificently restored mansion – Sami Makarem Cultural Center, nestled amongst the pines in Aytat, was built in the 17th century by the Talhouk family.

In 1971, the much-neglected building was purchased from Sheikh Aref Talhouk, by the eminent writer, scholar and artist, Dr. Sami Makarem, son of the famous calligrahic artist, Sheikh Nassib Makarem.

The late Dr. Sami Makarem wrote in one of his last books “Rihla Bila Tariq” (Journey without a Road) about his reasons for buying this 17th Century house that the family is now transforming into the Sami Makarem Cultural Center – مركز سامي مكارم الثقافي – in Aytat, Mount Lebanon.

“It was a dream that I had always dreamt of throughout my life. This dream initially came true when I first purchased the “Talhouk” Mansion, a mansion that dates back to the 17th Century.

“From this very moment, a very strong belief was instilled in me for preserving such a heritage, as it symbolizes the true continuum of knowledge, culture, truthfulness, and beauty.

“For me, this house symbolizes the cultural connection of the past with that of the present as well as that of the future. I was so much intrigued by the house that I could feel those old stones revealing the secrets of this mansion. My passion and admiration for such heritage only made me so persistent into turning this ruin into a humble sanctuary.”

Perfect Imperfection

Interestingly, this four hundred year old building was not originally constructed as a “mansion” as much as it was a “military facility” for the Talhouk clan of Aytat.

Before its renovation, evidence remained of prison rooms, officers’ quarters and stables for horses.

Unlike residential mansions built for the aristocracy at the time, this structure was made from uneven, imperfectly cut rock of any origin. Today, architects marvel at the perfection of its imperfection – it is one of few such surviving examples of early Lebanese architecture.

Its renovation has been a labor of love for two generations of the Makarem family.

Such was the state of the building’s disrepair, relatives, friends and neighbours wondered about Dr. Sami Makarem’s sanity in undertaking such a massive restoration project. Many had expected he would demolish the ruins and build apartments.

Soon after purchasing the crumbling remains in 1971, Dr  Makarem began work, spending the next 10 years restoring the neglected building into a family home for his wife and four children, and retreat for his literary and artistic pursuits. His wife, Julia roamed the countryside looking for special “pieces” to bring the building back to its original condition. In 1981, they moved into their new home.

The fruits of their labour, however, were short-lived. During the Israeli invasion of 1982, and escalation of fighting in the mountain area in 1983, the family was forced to flee, and much of the complex was destroyed – bricks were turned to rubble, entire sections decimated.

True to his tenacious character, Sami Makarem was not beaten by this setback – when tensions settled, he once again set about re-restoring his historic family home.

Today, Samir Makarem, the son of Sami Makarem, is the custodian and curator of his family’s legacy. With his wife Lama, he has taken over the task of completing the renovations. It is as much a labor of love, as it is a tribute to his father and this important chapter in Lebanese history.

Benevolent Vision

Although it could have remained a private family home, after his passing Dr Sami Makarem’s children had a broader, more altruistic vision – to transform this 17th century abode into a Cultural Centre and Museum, opening its doors to the public, to share the history, heritage, art and literature of their renowned father and grandfather.

A tour of the Center with our genial host, Samir Makarem is truly a trip back in time – a journey through history, art, literature and beauty.

Brightly colored bougainvillea guards the entrance to the Castle, welcoming visitors to its spacious grounds.

Dotted among the laneways are lavender and lemon verbena, leading out to tree-lined clearings, where you’ll likely find a hammock or two for lazy afternoon catnaps. The trees, perhaps, are almost as old as the building it cradles.

Depending on the time of year, you’ll be met by an abundance of fruit-laden pomegranate trees, and a massive hand-made molasses-making operation underway in the beautiful blue weatherboard cabin, built within the trees.

The garden houses an obligatory rustic treehouse, offering a hideway for the adventurous.

Nearing the castle’s entrance, are recently crafted metal sculptures, works of art in themselves, displaying the calligraphic designs of Sami Makarem.

And as you enter, look down and you’ll notice the hand-made encaustic floor tiles.

“My father had these tiles made 40 years ago, and stored them in the cellar, we found them recently so we decided to lay them in small sections around the property, where they could be seen,” said Samir Makarem. (photos below)

There are many sections within the building, many passages leading to lofty rooms, and also to cosy nooks and crannies.

But this is not your typical “Don’t Touch!” museum.

“We wanted to present the Museum as a traditional home – the home of Sami Makarem – as it was when it was lived in – so visitors can sit down, relax and enjoy the artwork and ambience,” says Samir.

The interior is indeed a work of art – beautifully restored stone archways, leadlight windows, traditional furnishings, memorabilia from the family’s travels, and historical records.

Samir Makarem shows us the artistry of his grandfather Sheikh Nassib Makarem, an unparalleled master of the art of traditional Arabic Calligraphy. There is even a newspaper article detailing Sheikh Nassib’s exhibit at the New York Fair in 1939.

“It was a big event – the equivalent of the Dubai 2020 Expo,” says Samir.

In another room, we see the progression of calligraphic styles of Sami Makarem. His early, traditional work, and his later, renegade designs.

Dotted amongst these masterpieces, are the works of Samir’s twin brother, Nassib, whose style leans more towards the later works of his father. Samir Makarem is a reluctant artist, describing his style as “geometric surrealism”.

The family is planning to hold a three-generation exhibition in June 2020.

Beyond this salon, a beautiful courtyard is home to ancient myrtle berry trees, and the whimsical floral artworks of Sami Makarem’s daughter, Rand.

Onwards and upwards, we arrive at the next level, where renovations for the library and reading room are in progress. There is memorabilia – a charcoal partrait – from the Abu Shakra family, Julia Makarem’s maternal relatives.

Within lies the typewriter on which Julia Makarem typed her husband’s thesis in Michigan, in 1963.

“It’s a never-ending project,” says Samir Makarem.

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sami makarem entrance culturak center aytat
treehouse sami makarem cultural center aytat
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nassib makarem 1939
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outdoor umbrella display sami makarem cultural center
pomegranates at sami makarem cultural center aytat
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sami makarem cultural center interior sitting room aytat

Calligraphic Celebration

The Sami Makarem Cultural Center is a celebration of the artwork of three generations – the classical Arabic calligraphy of Sheikh Nassib Makarem, the free-flowing, colorful, “rebellious” calligraphy of Dr Sami Makarem, and the artistic expressions of Dr Makarem’s children – Nassib, Sami and Rand.

"It is the family's duty to turn the mansion into a cultural center - the Sami Makarem Cultural Center."

Samir Makarem

The Sami Makarem Cultural Center is the only focal point of its kind in the district of Aley.

When he is not in Lebanon, Samir Makarem works from Dubai as a business consultant and soft-skills communications trainer. He holds a Masters Degree in Monetary Economics.

In this vein, he regularly organises seminars and meetings – from psychology and spiritualism, to art, history and poetry – free of charge and open to the public, at the Cultural Center in Aytat.

A library is now being built to house Dr Makarem’s substantial collection of books. Stage one is almost complete, stage two is in the planning. In the future, the Cultural Center will expand to cater for conferences, exhibitions and training workshops.

See our Events page to stay up-to-date with latest happenings at Sami Makarem Cultural Center.

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Mission Statement

“The Sami Makarem Cultural Center aims at cultivating and stimulating appreciation for various forms of arts and talents while preserving the heritage and contributing to such a mission.

To foster a culture of creativity, love for knowledge, virtue, and beauty.

To become one of the leading Cultural Centers in the region that contributes to the fostering of a culture of creativity, love for knowledge, virtue, and beauty.

To establish resourceful centers dedicated to promoting various forms of arts, talents, and research.

To create a Cultural Center, a Heritage Museum, a Public Library, an Exhibition Hall, and a Learning and Development Training Center.

Love, Fun, Beauty, and Creativity.”

leadlight sami makarem cultural center aytat
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sami makarem cultural center gardens
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Sami Makarem Cultural Center

When & Where


By appointment – phone 76 812769

Entrance is free of charge


Aytat – follow the signs

Picture of Heather & Sami Eljurdi

Heather & Sami Eljurdi

Founders • Archivists • Editors

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